Irene de Kruif
Irene de Kruif
In order to speed up the handling of the benefits scandal, the government wants to focus massively on reaching settlements with victims. The government is looking for commercial parties to pay compensation for 2500 parents to be processed in one go. Sources around the cabinet report this to Nieuwsuur.
The new approach stems from the government’s promise to speed up the handling of the benefits scandal. Prime Minister Rutte promised improvement at the end of March after the major defeat of the coalition parties in the provincial elections.
Pilot settlements failed
So far, the Tax and Customs Administration has had little success in reaching settlements with victims, so-called settlement agreements (vso’s). Eleven months ago, two different trials started with about 30 victims, with varying degrees of success.
In one of the trials, thirteen of the fifteen participants reached a settlement after a year, according to the Ministry of Finance. In the other pilot, participants were told that they could reach a settlement within eight weeks. But of the fifteen participating parents, only four of the victims have reached an agreement with the tax authorities after almost a year.
‘Every letter hurts’
Several parents who participated in that trial tell Nieuwsuur that they have become bogged down in legal proceedings. “I feel trapped in this process, between all those lawyers,” says Jyoti Weststrate, who is still waiting for a settlement.
It was stated in advance that the burden of proof would not lie with the parents. Nieuwsuur saw an internal document stating that even when the national lawyer agrees with the parents internally, officials of the Tax and Customs Administration still ask parents for more evidence. The Ministry of Finance says in a response that it can sometimes be difficult for parents to properly substantiate damage and “to arrive at a practical solution in consultation with the lawyer and the parent”.
Bernadette Vliegendhart was very disappointed with how much evidence she had to provide for a settlement. “Going through all your papers was also bringing up all your traumas. Every letter hurts, every letter from a bailiff brings back memories. Memories that you have put far away come back.” Vliegendhart has now managed to reach a settlement with the Tax Authorities, but is still waiting for payment.
They are still experiencing the consequences of the benefits scandal on a daily basis
MPs Inge van Dijk (CDA) and Renske Leijten (SP) believe that victims are still approached with too much suspicion. Van Dijk wonders whether the government has become too frightened to conclude that something “is simply the result of the benefits affair, that there is a causal connection?”
According to Leijten, it is increasingly common to see that people with minor claims are “quickly done and compensated for a large amount” and with major claims “people are distrusted to the bone”.
Reinier van Zutphen, the National Ombudsman, sees “risks” in the massive bets on settlements by the cabinet. “You should not unnecessarily legalize the case,” says Van Zutphen. “You have to talk to people from the start: what do you need to be able to move forward? That really doesn’t happen enough. It’s about much more than just an amount for damage.”
In addition, the government is relying on commercial parties – such as insurers, consultancy firms or legal advisers – to reach settlements with parents. In The Hague it is recognized that the government cannot do it faster itself and that therefore private parties are being looked at to “run production”.
Both Van Dijk and Leijten are concerned whether the costs of massive settlements will remain proportionate if the government starts working with commercial parties. For example, the CDA member of parliament is curious how much money will end up with the parents, “and how much we have had to pump into the organization?” The Member of Parliament emphasizes that commercial parties must be properly supervised: “Is it not completely out of step? Is this indeed a route through which parents are helped better and faster?”
It was already clear in the trial that those costs are rising sharply. For example, a personal injury lawyer declares 20,000 euros for one victimized parent, just to map out the damage.
The government has already earmarked more than 7 billion euros for the settlement of the benefits scandal, as recently appeared from the Spring Memorandum. It is expected that a total of about 40,000 victims will be entitled to compensation and compensation.
The parents participating in the failed pilot are surprised that the cabinet now wants to settle with 2500 parents. Vliegendhart advises the government to arrange the entire process in a much shorter time frame: “Getting together in one day, discussing everything and reaching an agreement, only then can you accelerate it.”